A conversation with Hitchcock ingénue Tippi Hedren

Alfred Hitchcock was so taken with Tippi Hedren that he personally trained her as an actress, followed her, and pressured her for sex. When Hedren shunned his obsessive attention, he disowned her and referred to her only as “the girl.” Photo credit: Snap/Zumapress.com Alfred Hitchcock was so taken with Tippi Hedren that he personally trained her as an actress, followed her, and pressured her for sex. When Hedren shunned his obsessive attention, he disowned her and referred to her only as “the girl.” Photo credit: Snap/Zumapress.com

Last year’s HBO film The Girl depicted the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, and his discovery of Tippi Hedren, who went under contract with Hitch in 1961 and starred in his films The Birds and Marnie.

The movie revealed the director’s obsessive desire to control and seek favor from his “ice cool blonde” leading ladies, a set secret that was revealed when Hedren spoke out for the first time in 1983.

Hedren’s film success dwindled after falling out of favor with Hitchcock, and she blames his extensive control for “ruining her career.” In the ’80s, Hedren turned her focus to animal rescue and founded the Shambala Preserve at her home in the California desert.

Hedren will appear at the Virginia Film Festival’s screening of The Birds on November 8 at the Paramount. She spoke with C-VILLE Weekly by phone about Hitchcock, The Birds, and her love of big cats.

With a slight wink toward an attraction to danger, she set the scene when she answered the phone, “I’m looking out at three beautiful tigers in front of my house,” said Hedren. “Behind a fence, however.”

How did you get the name Tippi?

My father gave it to me. My baptismal name is Nathalie Kay Hedren, and he thought that was too much, so he started calling me Tupsa, a Swedish term of endearment. It went from Tupsa to Tips to Tippi. I’ve never been called Nathalie.

Hitchcock discovered you, groomed you, then cast you in The Birds.

Yes, I was a fashion model with Eileen Ford in New York for years [before].

You’ve made it known that the attic scene was the worst part of filming The Birds. What was your favorite scene? 

The [attic scene] was exhausting. My favorite scene was at the very beginning of the flim with Rod Taylor, when we were in the pet store. It was just fun, and flirty.

Did the cast take you under its wing?

They were fabulous to me—all of them. They were consummate actors, and The Birds was my first film. Then, of course I had Alfred Hitchcock as my drama coach.

The relationship took a dark turn.

Yes, unfortunately.

Did he ever admit to or apologize for his obsessive behavior towards you?

Never. Never. It’s really a horrible situation because when somebody has an obsession, it’s a mental situation. I’m sure it’s unbearable for the person that has the obsession and the person who is the object.

Did you become friends or compare notes with other Hitchcock actresses? 

Yes. Kim Novak. Nobody ever talked about it. Nobody ever did, until I did.

I believe I am the one who broke the silence. This was happening even when he made the silent films. It was happening with an actress named Anny Ondra. It was terrible because his wife had just given birth to Patricia, and he started with an obsession.

When was the last time you spoke with Hitchcock?

When I was doing The Countess of Hong Kong in London. The studio wanted me to have a meeting with Mr. Hitchcock and Alma. It was a very uncomfortable time, and I don’t know what the purpose of it was, except for publicity.

What did you think of Sienna Miller’s portrayal of you in The Girl?

I think she did a fabulous job. The film turned out to be very honest. They did me the favor of asking me to be involved with the writing of the script. It’s a very true story.

How did you feel about your daughter becoming an actress after your own difficult experience? 

I felt kind of surprised because Melanie [Griffith] had seen me. It’s not an easy job. You’re always looking for work, and you’re talked about. I would’ve never thought about telling her ‘you need to be a doctor.’

I think you need to give everyone a chance to do what they want to do, in whatever their interests are.

Have you returned to Bodega Bay?

I go back to Bodega Bay often. I was just there on Labor Day. I stay in the area where the film [The Birds] was made. It’s kind of like going back in my life to a very important life-changing event. It’s so much fun to sign autographs, and meet the tourists coming to the area. When they find out that the actress from the film is there, it becomes a huge event.

How do you feel about a remake of The Birds?

I hear that often, I hope it doesn’t happen. I hope they don’t do it because anytime a Hitchcock film has been copied, it never works. With all of the special effects that exist now, it would be an extravaganza, and the story is what’s interesting here.

You live on the Shambala Preserve and have rescued many big cats. How did this come about?

I did two films in Africa in ’69 and ’70. Environmentalists there were telling us that we needed to create awareness and save these animals. So we looked around, and the answer came quickly when we went on a photo safari in Mozambique.

We came across a house that had been abandoned by a game warden. A pride of lion had moved in and they were sitting in the windows, napping on the veranda, cubs playing. It was absolutely gorgeous.

When we went to shoot the movie [Roar with then-husband Noel Marshall], we were going to use Hollywood “acting” animals, but they said it couldn’t work because of the number of cats together, so we used our own animals. The first one was a rescue, and it went on. In the ’80s we had 150 big cats, and we have rescued close to 250 big cats over all these years.

I know these animals so well, and I don’t understand why there aren’t federal laws against the breeding for pets or financial gain.

Which was more dangerous, the lions or Hitchcock? 

I can’t even compare. The animals are much more honest. (laughs)

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